Monday, March 2, 2020

HIKING AND BIKING IN NEW ZEALAND, Part 3: Guest Post by Cathy Mayone

New Zealand, Milford Sound
Over the Christmas holidays, my niece and her husband, Cathy and Mike Mayone, spent two weeks in New Zealand, driving, biking and hiking on both the North and South Island, enjoying the southern hemisphere summer and New Zealand's unique landscape. I thank Cathy for sharing their trip with The Intrepid Tourist. For more about their biking experiences, you can go to her blog .

Part 3:  New Zealand’s South Island Alps, Lakes and Fiords

As our airplane approached Queenstown, we marveled at the surrounding snow-capped mountains.  As we procured our rental car, the agent casually said, “Oh, you are lucky to have landed. They often divert to Christchurch due to the weather.”  Having heard about the terrible floods that had been ravaging the South Island in the prior weeks, I had been monitoring the weather and relieved that we had some partly sunny days ahead of us.  Given the unforeseen weather, I had also kept our itinerary loosely planned for our five days in Queenstown, which makes for a great home base for many of the South Island’s sites.
Otago Wine Trail
We rented bikes in the old historic town of Arrowtown.  Its buildings reminded me of Colorado’s Old Western towns.  Upon hiring (as they say, rather than renting) the bikes, we didn’t get very far since the Farmer’s Market was just coming to life.  Once on our way, we headed to the Otago Wine Trail that follows a creek to the larger river and gorge.  The highlights of this trail include two suspension bridges we had to cross, one of which was quite long.  The trick is to not look down and not have too many people the bridge at once!  
Kawarau Gorge suspension bridge
We also came to the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, the world famous, original bungie jumping site.  Seeing even the most fearful people give it a go, it was tempting, but the vineyards were beckoning us.  The vineyards are all right along the trail so we stopped at a couple of them before turning around for the return.
Drive to Milford Sound
We picked one of our sunniest days to go to Te Anau and the Milford Sound.  Your options are to fly, bus, or drive from Queenstown, with some tours providing combination fly/bus/cruise day trip options.  It’s a two hour drive to Te Anau, and then another two hours to Milford Sound.  We seriously considered the expensive flying option, but determined there were too many things we wanted to see along the way.  Mike was up for driving, so call us crazy, but we did a day trip, stopping in the small lake town of Te Anau in both directions for a break.  The beautiful landscape kept us occupied the whole trip, and the road into Milford Sound cuts through a tunnel rather than having too many hairy turns, so the driving was more manageable than anticipated. 
Milford Sound cruise
Once in Milford Sound, we took Cruise Milford’s two hour “boutique” cruise, which was a smaller boat advertised not to be filled to capacity.  It is recommended that you book in advance during the high season, as it would be a shame to show up in Milford Sound and not be able to get a cruise.  Also, there are not many eating options in Milford Sound, so plan for picnic food.  The other tip is to avoid the $10 / hour parking that is closest to the cruise docks and do the free parking / shuttle that is near the airport, making sure you allow enough time.
Milford Sound waterfall
The cruise does a loop on Milford Sound going down on one side to the opening of the Tasman Sea and back on the other side.  The greenish-blue Sound waters contrasted beautifully with the steep, snow-capped mountains abundant with waterfalls.  The boat even went up under some of the waterfalls, giving advance warning to those who did not want to get wet! 
We made several stops along the way in and out of Milford Sound such as Mirror Lake, and to take pictures in the fields of lupines--the beautiful, pink and purple flowers that bloom all over New Zealand in the summer.  We arrived back in Queenstown around 10 pm at night, just as the sky was turning to night.  (New Zealand summer days (December) are filled with long daylight hours, making this day trip more doable.)

For a shorter day trip from Queenstown we did the 90 minute drive over to Lake Wanaka.  It was one of the busier lakes with swimmers, kayakers, jet skiers, boaters, and parasailers.  Tired from our previous two days, we kept it simple with a beach take-out lunch and a lakeside walk.  Plus, we needed to conserve our energy to stay up for the New Year’s Eve Queenstown activities.  After happy hour on our balcony, we walked down into town around 7 pm when we heard the music begin.  There were local bands playing to an enthusiastic, mostly middle age with children crowd.  We found it to be a very “sane” New Year’s celebration but perhaps it was still early.  We headed back to our AirB&B for dinner and balcony viewing of the fireworks at midnight, and we wished our family and friends a Happy New Year 18-21 hours before the U.S. would celebrate.
Mount Cook Visitor Centre
We kept New Year’s Day, a partly rainy day, even simpler and opted for a walk around Queenstown, including Queenstown Gardens.  The next day, we headed out for the last part of our trip, driving two hours to Twizel, and then another 40 minutes past Twizel to Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak.  We oriented ourselves at the wonderful Aoraki Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre. 
Hooker Valley track
Having fallen in love with New Zealand’s suspension bridges, the Hooker Valley 5 km fairly flat track afforded us with three bridges leading us to Hooker Glacier Lake and closer views of Mount Cook.
Hooker Valley hike destination with view of Mount Cook
Back in Twizel, we checked into our AirB&B, slightly different accommodations, as it’s a true B&B in the home of its owners with a farm of three sheep, two young cows, and chickens. Our balcony looked out onto the fields where a Lord of the Rings battle took place. Twizel and the surrounding areas are known for their bright star viewing. With the long days, we were too tired to wait for the pitch black sky but we left the curtain ajar for a quick peak when we awoke in the middle of the night. Twizel, and so many towns we encountered in New Zealand, made us feel like we were returning to a time in the U.S. pre-Big Box stores and Amazon Prime. The towns still have the locally owned hardware and clothing stores, pharmacies, and bakeries.
Lupines and Lake Pukaki
We perhaps saved the best for last with our final bike ride, the Alps 2 Ocean ride, which is one of New Zealand’s 22 great rides.  From Twizel, we rode through the middle of wide open pastures with views of the mountains.  And then we reached Lake Pukaki, with its stunning turquoise blue water juxtaposed with the white capped Aoraki (Mount Cook).  It looked even more stunning on this day now that the Australian bushfire haze had dissipated.  We rode the trail around the lake until the trail ended, ate a picnic lunch, and then did the return trip to Twizel.

Our time had come to make the final drive to Christchurch to catch our plane home.  We left New Zealand wondering why we had never had it on our bucket list. Its people, beaches, mountains and activities afforded us a lifetime of memories and a reminder why we travel.

Related articles and links:

For more information about New Zealand’s amazing Great Rides cycling initiative and an in depth look at all of our New Zealand biking adventures, visit my “Great Riding” articles on my Swim Bike Run Survive blog.

For an in depth look at the Milford Sound, check out Owen Floody’s three part series.

Our South Island accommodations included:



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